Your approach to problem-solving: diet or regimen?

Until recently, I had never dieted. I simply didn’t need to. I come from a family of fast metabolisms and was always able to eat more or less what I had wanted without worrying about added girth. Even when my waistline started to expand, it wasn’t significant, certainly not enough to truly conscience the idea of dieting.

In addition, I had seen what happened to so many others who had set out to diet. Too often, they failed miserably. Some were unable to stay sufficiently disciplined. Others lost the weight that they wanted (and often even more) but quickly gained it back. If I was going to do something about my weight, it would have to be done in a way that I would achieve a different, more sustainable outcome.

So recently, when I decided that it was time for me to again fit comfortably into some old clothing, I put myself on an exercise regimen, rather than a diet. Though I had knew that weight loss comes primarily through changes in one’s eating habits, I felt that if I could first become disciplined establishing a demanding exercise regimen, I would be able to create a more sustainable approach to healthy living and, as a result, weight management.

I started with a routine that included four days of exercise at 30 minutes per day (it is now at six days a week). I also set goals for daily steps and other benchmarks. Never once did I limit my calorie intake in a formal sense. Still, the added discipline in my life also started to impact what I chose to eat and in what quantity.

I am proud to report that I have lost ten pounds and have added some muscle along the way. I believe that by taking the “long road” of increased discipline and focus on improving my systems through exercise, I achieved a better outcome than had I chosen simply to focus on the short-term need to diet.

When considering leadership, I often find that leaders take a “diet approach” to their “fatty” situations. Instead of managing problem-solving strategically by looking at and addressing the root cause of a problem, they seek quick fixes and easy solutions. Many leaders try to dissect and respond quickly to an issue rather than identify the strategy for change and procedural adjustments that will produce a better long-term solution.

How can leaders approach problem-solving more strategically and holistically, approaching it less as a problem to shed (diet) and more like a challenge to grow from (regimen)?

Ideally, leaders want to map out how they will respond to different problems in advance. Identify a series of past problems and think about how they were responded to or how they should have been handled. Lay out a series of steps and considerations, including the “behind the scenes” elements that may not be obvious at first glance. Then think about new problems not yet encountered and talk about how they might be handled. Great leaders anticipate the unexpected and utilize the strengths of their people to assure the strategy leads to a sustainable solution.

At the least, leaders must be careful to never shoot from the hip when solving problems. Be patient and willing to resist outside pressures as well as your own desire to make things good again. Instead, step back and assess the situation properly. Seek to understand what went wrong and identify the opportunities, in terms of relationship building and internal learning, that each problem represents.

Some other strategies:

  • Stay calm – Problems can give leaders every reason to panic. Great leaders resist that temptation. When you stay calm, your people will typically remain calm as well. You’ll also earn people’s respect, which is often the first huge step in extracting yourself and your organization from the mess that you’ve created.
  • Focus big, not small – Keep an eye on the big picture rather than getting caught up in the small things that come up each day.
  • Avoid blaming – Instead of reprimanding your staff, use problem-solving to help them feel as though they helped repair the damage.

Of course, no one wants problems to occur in the first place. But it’s what you do in response that makes all the difference.

The best leaders and organizations are the ones that take advantage of problems to grow and get better. They demonstrate maturity, act courageously, and demand accountability, even when the chips are down. An effective leader doesn’t just work through problems alone. If you see it as an opportunity to open the lines of communication and make your team a part of the solution, you'll likely find that your entire business benefits as a result.

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